Instant speech feedback: Get used to it

By Steve Outing

I’m sure this will be mainstream across many professions before long, but for now it’s mostly limited to technology and media conferences. I’m talking about how speakers now get feedback from their audience as soon as they finish talking, via tweets from audience members posted immediately to Twitter. Overall, it’s a positive development that can benefit speakers — though something to get used to, and the speaker might take a few lumps.

Friday morning I gave a keynote talk on the third day of the National College Media Convention in Austin, Texas. It’s been a while since I gave a presentation solo to a fairly large audience, and so the audience tweeting was focused on what I was saying for close to an hour. (Being on a panel, your part is likely to only get a small number of tweeted comments.) As long as the attendees in my session used the conference hashtag (#ncmc09) and my Twitter name (@steveouting) or real name in their tweets, I could see the reaction from lots of people in the audience once my podium time was up.

There’s also a CoverItLive feed of Twitter posts during my talk on CoPress.org.

So while this is not the first time I’ve had a speaking engagement where audience members were tweeting, this was the first one where I got a really good feel for the new world of public speaking. It’s an interesting experience of getting feedback that wasn’t possible in the past. For example, I learned:

  • What points people thought were most relevant (via multiple tweets of the same thought or quote).
  • What things I said were misinterpreted or misunderstood. (That’s great information for next time; I know I need to do a better job explaining a particular slide or point.)
  • What I screwed up. (A dollar figure I cited that apparently was wrong.) … Etc.

One interesting insight was when I got to a part of my talk where I discussed the need for Journalism schools to expand their reach to other disciplines, so that journalism students also learn entrepreneurial and business skills, and some computer science skills (or at least enough to understand how to talk with and work with MBAs and computer scientists). Some tweeters in the audience thought I was “bashing” journalism schools, and felt offended. Without those tweets, I never would have known that some people heard something different than I thought I said (which was that for this period in journalism’s history, business and technology skills are a necessary complement for a generation of journalists charged with reinventing the news business). I’ll phrase it differently next time.

And, of course, if you don’t have the oratory skills of President Obama (I definitely do not), you might hear a bit about that, too. … Seeing one person tweet that my delivery lacked enough voice inflection, I’ll go watch a few Obama speeches and work on that. :)

I think that as this audience behavior becomes even more common at conferences and lectures, it will help those speakers brave enough to look on Twitter for feedback to learn how to improve their delivery and message.

And, of course, it’s pretty cool for the audience members of a speech where one person is doing all the talking to be able to watch what others are tweeting. You get a sense of what points resonated with the audience; perhaps it’s something that your mind skipped over, or you interpreted differently. After the session, you can tap the collective minds of the rest of the audience to find the best stuff that was presented, and probably find additional insights beyond the speaker’s.

For speakers, get used to lots of people not looking at you but rather at their laptops or smart-phones. Lots of heads pointing down no longer means what it used to at a speech. It can mean that you’re presenting information that people find valuable enough to share via tweeting … or that everyone has noticed the ketchup stain on your tie. You’ll know after you’ve finished talking.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!